Brouwerij Rodenbach - Vintage 2016
Serving Temperature:42–48° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip, Chalice, Flute or Pinot Glass
Rodenbach’s Vintage 2016 is one of our favorite beers from this brewery. We’ve regularly loved their vintage line and the latest release is exquisite, standing as a clear reminder of just how good their Grand Cru is, as well. Each bottle is from a single 4,000-gallon oak foeder that has passed brewmaster Rudi Ghequire’s stringent selection process, where the beer was aged at least two years. Every example is unique, unblended, and labeled with the number of the specific foeder in which it was aged. Its vintage year, in turn, indicates the start of its maturation.
This world-class example from West Flanders pours a deep reddish brown that’s pretty clear, but with an intensity of color that speaks of its barrel time. Tart cherries and fresh apple land as initial aromatics, leading a sweet-tart impact of generous fruitiness and underlying caramel. The richness of cherries is a key highlight in the aroma: brilliantly ripe, lightly boozy, like the pinnacle of cherry beer. Fruit intensity gets softly tempered by the presence of oak, with light vanilla and almond, and while there’s a sweet-sour vibrancy here, it feels like a polished wine. The aromatics start mouthwatering and get better from there. Massive, tightly woven fruits.
A brewery with the experience of Rodenbach understands how to make something at least near-perfect when they really want to at this point, and that initial sip of Vintage 2016 feels like they really tried to with this. It’s velvety, with a delicate underpinning of tiny bubbles as waves of rich fruit—raspberry, cherry, strawberry, currant—build alongside just enough of a rounded caramel and candied malt sweetness. Readily shareable, plus a pleasure to dig into. Though there are many flavor parallels to Oloroso sherry, a vibrant carbonation and superb ripeness of fruit make this an absolute pleasure to drink. Rich, honeyed malts offer up notes approximating the juiciest of Sauternes and German Reisling options. Sweet-tart perfection.
While Rodenbach’s Vintage 2016 is very much on point at the moment, this should also age quite gracefully over the next few years at least. For pairings, the cherry and caramel notes at the core, plus its touch of sweetness, make it ideal alongside moderately spicy pork sausages, possibly even roasted lamb. But we’re inclined to savor it with a full-on plethora of cheeses.
There is perhaps no more famous brewery in all Belgium than Brouwerij Rodenbach. While the country has a long history of brewing both tart and downright sour beers using wild yeast and bacteria, it was Rodenbach in the late 19th century that helped pioneer and define the specific style of beer we know as Flanders Red Ale, considered by many to be the most vinous, or wine-like, of all beer styles. The standard Rodenbach is a blend of approximately 75% fresh and 25% 2-year aged ale, while Rodenbach Grand Cru incorporates much more aged beer (approx. 66%). Their Caractère Rouge starts as 100% 2-year-aged ale, which then undergoes a 6-month maceration with fresh cherries, raspberries, and cranberries.
We’ve been able to secure Rodenbach’s Grand Cru and Caractère Rouge in previous years, and this month we’re thrilled to bring their stellar Vintage 2016, one of the brewery’s most exceptional (and limited) offerings—with at least one bottle in each Rare Beer Club shipment signed by Rodenbach’s brewmaster Rudi Ghequire.
In 1878, Pedro’s grandson Eugène became manager of the family brewery. From a brewing perspective, as opposed to a political one, Eugène is certainly the most influential Rodenbach in the family line. During his travels to southern England, he was exposed to, and learned much about, the early porter beers popular in London at the time. In the 19th century, these early porters were typically aged for at least several months in giant barrels where they matured and acidified. Eugène took what he learned and applied it at home in Belgium, developing and refining the technique, and creating the style of Rodenbach beers we know today.
Rodenbach’s red ales undergo a primary and a secondary fermentation, with both yeast and lactobacillus bacteria, creating beer with distinct acidity and tartness. The beer is then aged and matured in huge oak barrels known as “foeders” in Flemish (“foudres” in French), some of which are older than 150 years. Of these impressive foeders, Rare Beer Club founder Michael Jackson once wrote, “Rodenbach, in Roeselare, has ten or eleven halls full of these tuns. There is nothing comparable in any brewery elsewhere in the world, and the whole establishment is a temple of industrial archaeology.”
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